Somehow or other we have been lulled into thinking that we must all become idealists and that our idealism should trump our patriotism.
We have been told, by thinkers on the left and right, that America is an idea and that belief in this idea is essential to becoming a citizen. I have variously offered my view that a nation is not an idea. A nation has borders and it has citizens. Some people belong. Others do not. Belonging has to mean something more than sharing a state of mind or believing in a bunch of dogmas. You cannot belong a nation while identifying yourself as a citizen of the world.
In two columns George Friedman—the only Friedman worth reading these days—has used slightly different terms. By his lights liberal democracy cannot exist outside of a defined nation. But, he does not see liberal democracy as an ideal. He sees it correctly as a set of practices. Historically, liberal democracies replaced monarchies. They could not have done so, Friedman argues, without a strong sense of nationalism, that is a sense of belonging to a nation.
Be that as it may, he argues that group cohesion must be established before the group can govern itself:
A nation is a group of people who share history, culture, language and other attributes. It is the existence of a common identity, a coherent sense of self and nationhood that make self-government possible, because it is that sense of self that permits self-government. A random collection of people without a core set of shared values cannot form a coherent regime, because nothing would hold the regime together or prevent internal chaos. The principle of the right to national self-determination can be universalized, but the practice of national self-determination must be rooted in the nation. Without this commonality, a nation could tear itself apart. We saw this happen in Yugoslavia and when Czechs and Slovaks gracefully divorced. We saw the chaos of the former European empires as nations once divided from each other by imperial borders and forced to live together with strangers were enveloped in constant turmoil. Without people who have self-identity, the right to self-determination cannot exist. Without the democracy that flows from it, liberal democracy cannot exist.
Friedman defines liberal democracy in his own way:
Liberal democracy makes two core assertions. First, there is a right to national self-determination. Second, this self-determination must manifest in a type of popular rule, and the people, in ruling themselves, have the right to select and approve the form and substance of government. The important point is that democracy is comprehensible only through the prism of the nation.
In a liberal democracy people practice political freedom. They choose their leaders and the policies that will define their nation. Citizens should manifest loyalty to their nation and should feel pride in their nation, especially in its achievements.
In a true democracy, people should be loyal to their nation even when their candidate loses an election. When a significant number of people insist that the only legitimate leader is the one they voted for they are undermining national cohesion and national pride. And they are abrogating a moral obligation to act as loyal members of the body politic. Dissent is not the same as resistance. And disloyalty is not dissent.
In another essay Friedman addressed these points. He took on the liberal elites who dismiss patriotism as a reactionary vestige:
Liberals in Europe and America did not deny that, but they simply could not grasp that the nation cannot exist unless the people feel a common bond that makes them distinct. The claim was that it was legitimate to have a nation, but not legitimate to love it inordinately, to love it more than other nations, to value the things that made it different, and above all, to insist that the differences be preserved, not diluted.
I have some reservations about the notion that nationalism has something to do with the “deep structure of the human soul,” but clearly Friedman is saying that being an American is essential, not incidental to who you are.
I add that being a proud American requires participation in certain rituals and practices. When a Colin Kaepernick refused to respect the American flag he was not merely dissenting. He was being disloyal and unpatriotic. As of now, he is out of a job and, if the latest reports are to be believed, he is not likely to find one on a professional football team.
In Friedman’s words:
Nationalism is not based on minor idiosyncrasies of food and holidays. It is the deep structure of the human soul, something acquired from mothers, families, priests and teachers. It is the thing that you are before you even understand that there are others. It tells you about the nature of the world, the meaning of justice, the deities we bow to and the obligations we have to each other. It is not all we are, but it is the root of what we are.
Being a citizen of a nation means that having moral obligations to that nation. Friedman dismisses the notion of citizen of the world because it does not confer a moral obligation… except perhaps the duty to hold certain dogmatic beliefs. Worse yet is the notion that we should identify as members of the human species. Such an identity does not require you to perform any actions. Good, bad or indifferent, you are always a human being:
I owe obligations to America and Americans that I do not owe to others, and others owe the same to their nations. It is easy to declare yourself a citizen of the world. It is much harder to be one. Citizenship requires a land, a community and the distinctions that are so precious in human life.
Finally, Friedman addresses the immigration conundrum. He notes astutely that the wealthy and privileged Americans who identify as internationalists tend to support unlimited immigration. But they have little contact with immigrants beyond those who mow their laws and clean up their kitchens. The hyperrich live in impregnable fortresses which shield them from the negative effects of the policy they support. The rest of the nation, especially those who are less fortunate, suffer the consequences of unlimited immigration, especially when the new immigrants, having no interest or intention of assimilating, threaten their identities as citizens of the nation. The problem is not as dire in America as it is in Angela Merkel’s Germany or as it is in Sweden, but it is certainly on the way to becoming so.
As for the situation in Sweden, I recommend this interview on Zero Hedge.
Friedman sees the nation dividing into two classes, the rich internationalists and the poorer nationalists. While the internationalists show no gratitude toward the nation that helped them become who they are, the more nationalistic classes now see their patriotism mocked by stand-up comedians who are not funny and by Hollywood actors who can barely act:
This class struggle is emerging in Euro-American society. It is between the well-to-do, who retain the internationalist principles of 1945 reinforced by a life lived in the wider world, and the poor. For this second group, internationalism has brought economic pain and has made pride in who they are and a desire to remain that way a variety of pathology.
The elite, well-to-do, internationalists, technocrats – call them what you’d like – demonize poorer members of society as ignorant and parochial. The poor see the elite as contemptuous of them and abandoning the principles to which they were born, in favor of wealth and the world that the poor cannot access.
As always, Friedman offers a cogent analysis:
In other words, the nationalism issue has become a football in a growing class struggle between those who praise tolerance but do not face the pain of being tolerant, and those who see tolerance as the abandonment of all they learned as a child.